This is an essay on notability.
This essay makes four arguments about things notability is not. If you are new to Wikipedia, you will need to know that "notable" does not simply mean "noteworthy," which is a standard way that the term is defined by a dictionary. On Wikipedia, notability is a test used by editors to decide whether a given topic warrants its own article.
Information on Wikipedia must be verifiable; if no reliable third-party sources can be found on a topic, then it should not have a separate article. Wikipedia's concept of notability applies this basic standard to avoid indiscriminate inclusion of topics. Determining notability does not necessarily depend on things such as fame, importance, or popularity—although those may enhance the acceptability of a subject.
This essay argues that notability is not objective. Notability is not permanent–it can change. Notability is not judged in isolation. Notability is not a meritocracy.
Notability is not objective
It is sometimes stated on Wikipedia that the primary notability criterion is not a subjective criterion. Nevertheless, the criterion itself contains four subjective words, specifically "A topic is presumed to be notable if it has received significant coverage in reliable sources that are independent of the subject." Whilst guidance on notability is useful, it is intended as a rule of thumb, and not the only consideration in a debate. Rather, the contents and subject of the article should frame the debate, and arguments should be put forward relating specifically to that content and subject.
It is not helpful to simply declare a subject non-notable; an editor should express their opinion as to why the article is non-notable, referencing both the article contents and any relevant policy or guidance offered on Wikipedia. They should also not seek to stifle debate simply by declaring that notability is an objective fact. As the guidance itself states, notability is a presumption; it is an assumption or supposition made with a degree of certainty, not an assertion of certitude. The significance of coverage, reliability of sources and the independence of the sources are all issues which should be explored within a deletion debate, not simply contended by an editor, and it is the debate which decides the notability of a given subject on Wikipedia, not an individual editor. A topic's inclusion in Wikipedia is decided by a consensus of Wikipedians, nothing more and nothing less.
Notability is not permanent
Since consensus can change on Wikipedia, Wikipedians should not state that notability (or non-notability) is permanent. Wikipedia operates by consensus, and that process includes deciding what is and isn't suitable for inclusion on Wikipedia. Those standards are subject to change, as can be seen in a number of deletion debates. Articles which were thought notable and suitable for inclusion earlier in the history of Wikipedia have later been deleted. As well, a topic which was deemed non-notable in 2010, may become notable by 2015, when multiple, independent reliable sources significantly discuss the topic. Therefore it is a fallacy to declare that notability (or non-notability) is permanent. This is not to be confused with Notability is not temporary.
Notability is not judged in isolation
Notability of a topic can often carry through to key features of that topic. This is especially obvious in fiction where a fictional place may not be notable on its own, but might be the primary setting or character of a notable work of fiction (e.g. Arrakis is the primary setting in the Dune universe). The best test for this sort of relationship is to ask, "would a very short summary of the parent topic be expected to include the 'child' topic?" Even then, typically such subordinate topics are merged into the parent article unless (as noted above) size limitations make this option less ideal.
Notability is not a meritocracy
It is a good idea, when writing a stub of a new article, to mention important awards or accomplishments of the subject of the article. Still, it is not a good idea to turn things around and pretend that someone must get awards or pass through some arbitrary set of conditions to "earn" a place in Wikipedia. Awards and accomplishments are useful because they don't come from out of the blue; someone who has earned a Grammy or an Academy Award is likely to have already received the required coverage in the press to justify inclusion. But if an actor or musician did get significant, published recognition from film reviewers or music critics, but did not receive awards (or did not receive enough awards), then he or she may nevertheless qualify for an article. Wikipedia is not a paper encyclopedia, an article on someone with five awards does not remove space or resources for someone else with 10 awards, so we don't need to be so selective.
For even more proof that the concept of notability is not a meritocracy, take this fictional example of two musicians, Bill and Ted. Bill is a rhythm guitar player who has worked as a substitute musician and touring musician with over 20 major metal bands over the last 20 years. He is highly respected by the metal community for his playing style, technique and sound. He is a virtual encyclopedia of metal guitar, too, as he knows a huge amount of the important songs. He is certainly "notable" in the regular world's use of the term. However, nothing has ever been written about Bill's music playing in a reliable source, so he probably would not be deemed to be notable to get a Wikipedia article about him.
Ted, on the other hand, has been singing and writing songs in an amateur band for the last few months. The band has never played live and they are not signed to any label. After Ted posts a homemade video of one of the band's songs, shot on a cellphone, to YouTube, it becomes the subject of nationwide controversy due to the offensive, disparaging lyrics. Articles about Ted, his song, and the lyrics are published by columnists in a number of major papers. Over the next several months, several major magazines interview Ted to find out more about him and how he developed his extremist views. A music professor even publishes an analysis of the song in a peer-reviewed academic journal. Ted and his music have been the subject of multiple reliable sources, so he would probably qualify for a Wikipedia article.